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September 2018

the ride they named the first baby after

te Aroha


A doctor, a dairy farmer, a distributor, a designer, and a Department of Conservation manager walked into a bar.
There. I have always wanted to start one of these things like that. But that is not what happened. Actually, they went on a voyage of discovery, to scope out a possible bike adventure for future development.
The mission coincided with the first really wintery weather, and while the week before had been bad, the day in question was forecast to be heinous. However, plans had been made and there was vague optimism in the forecast, so the trip was on.

When I woke up at 2.15am it was pissing down.

By dawn the sky had large patches of blue and as we headed out of Rotorua (in which direction I can not divulge, and it doesn’t really matter: there are potential mountain bike adventures at all points of the compass) we started talking about a possibly nice day. As long as we ignored the steely sky to the northwest, which looked capable of delivering almost anything.

It did. By the time we ditched a car at the finish point, and clambered into another to be delivered to the start, the unfortunate Doctor and Dairy farmer (who drew the short straws) had ridden up the significant climb to the trailhead and into a dusting of snow.

As always, once we were in the trees, and immediately onto a hectic trail, the temperature became irrelevant. And then the sun came out. For about 5 minutes. Huge views, mad trail, and nearly 1000m of jungle downhill meant a good day whatever happened - and nothing untoward did. By the time we had really steady rain we were already as wet as we could get. A few rivers to wade were only a problem because I keep my phone in my shorts pocket. Carrying a bike with the left hand while hitching the right pants leg above the waterline with the right makes walking on slippery boulders in cycling shoes about as much like multi-tasking as I can manage.

By the way: even a solid downpour on the road ride to the car didn’t penetrate my pocket enough to really wet my phone. With their water resistant finish and pocket location, Nzo shorts are good for this type of stuff. My TQ Peanut tights were only semi-damp, and both parts of Baselayer set worn at once under a decent rain jacket made slithering around in the bush for the best part of a day an almost comfortable experience.
Sooner or later we were back in dry kit, the heater was cranked up, and the ride was being dismantled and reassembled, and compared with other outings as we drove home.

Perhaps the best part of a successful expedition was that it was inspired by a Department of Conservation that is interested in making mountain biking part of the back country menu.

Seems like a long shot with such a complicated setup, but if anybody wants to come up with a middle section and punchline to my opening sentence, bring it on. If its really funny we’ll immortalise it in Nzoland, and send you a t shirt.

Posted on May 29, 2013 by Gary Sullivan


How you get Nzo mountain bike shorts



Do as I say, not as I do.

clouds ahead


I pack the Krampus into the back of the van with the resignation that comes from knowing there will be mud, wet gear, maintenance required afterwards.

It is too wet for a road ride, even one with mudguards. It is too wet for the trails, save them for another day. Life is too short for home trainers, so we will ride the forestry roads for a couple of hours.

Just about the time I get to the forest I recall the weather map looking less biblical down south a bit, and to the west. Spur of the moment, I take a right on to Highway 30 instead of a left into the carpark. Maybe when I get to Highway One it will be dry, and I can cut down to Taupo.

It isn’t, and I don’t.

There is a sliver of light under the clouds on the horizon, so I go west until it stops raining. When that happens I am almost at the start of the Timber Trail.

By the time I get there it is actually sunny.

But I had packed for a couple of hours in a bike park. Which in today’s world of ultra reliable bikes and tubeless tyres means I have a water bottle. No food. No tools. No spare tubes. I have a phone. But no reception. I have some money. There is nothing to buy.

I go anyway.

It is beautiful. Completely deserted. There are a few puddles, but the trail is in good shape.


Big tree


All the way I am thinking about what will happen if anything goes wrong. Kind of cursing myself for being stupid. Which is ridiculous because it doesn’t help, and the obvious thing to do if I am really worried is to stop, turn around, and head back. But I don’t turn around, I keep going, trying to be careful, trying not to break anything, trying not to pinch flat (the Krampus has tubes).

I once walked a long way with a broken chain. Another time I rode slowly for ages until it was nearly dark with a front tyre that was almost flat, and no pump. I have made a point of being semi-prepared for anything ever since. But not lately, not in the bike park, and not today.

I get to my goal, the second big bridge at about 24 kilometres from the car. It is as stunning as ever, and having checked on that I can return.

As soon as I turn around I start feeling more sensible. At least I am going in the right direction. I could have kept going. I can almost take some kind of credit for being smart enough to turn around.

And then it started raining. To begin with, sort of misty stuff that I can believe is low cloud. Then slightly wetter misty stuff. Then actual solid rain. It sets in, and doesn’t let up. I get soaked to the skin.

But hey, I didn’t crash. The bike functions to the end. Both ends hold air.

The cafe at Whakamaru makes acceptable coffee, a good ham and cheese roll, and whoever made the melting moment bikkies was working from a photograph with no clues as to scale.

They are almost as big as my head. I eat one anyway.


Uploaded Image



Surly invents a new category of bicycle.

Midnight Special3


As Rule #12 maintains, the correct number of bikes to own is n+1, with ’n’ being the only algebraic symbol I have ever been remotely interested in: it represents my current stock of bikes.

Even when I am content with the various bikes I have, I read reviews, look at what is on other people’s roof racks, and get excited whenever I visit a bike shop.

I have two beloved road bikes that have seen long stretches of unpaved road and even the odd dirt trail and handled everything thrown at them, but I have not missed the bike industry’s latest thing to buy: gravel bikes.

Allegedly, we need a whole new class of bike to go forth on gravel roads. I resisted this trend, and continued taking shortcuts through the forest on whatever I was riding, sometimes feeling bad about subjecting bikes that are hard to replace to such treatment, but doing it anyway.

Then Surly released the Midnight Special. Surly are usually ahead of the curve, inventing categories and filling them with simple and hard working examples, and the MS looked like it would be different enough from a regular road bike to be a good thing to have in the stable.

So I got myself one, goddammit.


Midnight Special 2


It’s unique. It’s not a cross bike. It allows a lot more options that most gravel bikes. It's a new category we are calling Fat Road. And having one may extend the life of my skinnier road bikes.

It has a steel frame bristling with locations for stuff to be bolted on to. It has a decent gear range for road riding, 2 X 11. It has disk brakes. There is enough room to fit proper mountain bike tyres on the 650b wheels that are in the box, or pretty decent sized tyres on 29er wheels if those are things you want to do. The stock wheels are tough. MTB hubs, eyelets in the rims, bolt through axles.

The geometry is one of a relaxed road bike, but definitely a road bike. It feels fast and quick handling on tarmac, and going fast on it is a lot of fun.

The stock tyres are semi-slick 47mm wide ballooners. Run at around 35psi they stick to pavement like shit to a blanket. Conventional wisdom would make you think riding a road bike on tarmac with big low pressure tyres would be a drag, literally. The reality is far from it. OK, you are going to be faster on your roadie. But not that much. And the big tyres are stupidly comfortable. If you are riding by yourself you wont notice the difference speed wise, until you consult your recording device, which is something you should do in private anyway. What you will notice is that rough chip roads are butter smooth, and you barely even notice the potholes, manholes and arseholes we share the road with. And when the tarmac turns to gravel, dirt or even rocks, the bike will happily go where you point it.

As a bonus extra, I procured mudguards, decorated them and bolted them on. In these unpredictable equinoctial days, having mudguards means any time it isn’t actually pissing down is ok for a ride. Somebody much wiser than me reckoned mudguards allow him to wrestle his demons with a dry arse. I have different demons, and a wider arse, but I can report he is correct and it is a good thing.

But to be honest none of these things are the best bit about this bike. What I really like is what it allows me to do: amble along a main highway without really being part of the traffic. I recently did a couple of longish rides on the Coromandel, and while the views were stellar and the traffic light, riding on the shoulder of the road felt like the safest place to be. On a roadie that would not be an option. The glass, nails, and other crap that lay among the ragged bits of asphalt, gravelly sections, and other gnar beyond the white line felt like the Midnight Special’s natural environment.

It’s not just a gravel bike, it is a road machine for the apocalypse.


Midnight Special 3



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